I love scary stories - not full-blooded horror and nothing too vampirical (is that a word?) - but ghost stories that reach down into the psyche: ones that unearth deep, unspoken, unacknowledged fears.
So how have I managed to live for more than fifty years without encountering the work of Susan Price? I don't know, but that state of affairs is now being remedied. Since reading Overheard in a Graveyard I've downloaded - is it three or four of her other books? I'm an addict, anyway...
Overheard in a Graveyard is a collection of short stories, beginning with one of that name. The opening tale is a conversation between a night-time visitor to the graveyard and an inhabitant of one of the graves. It's creepy, to the extent that the words crawl like cold fingers down your back. I missed its power the first time I read it, as I hadn't got used to the form. When I'd read the other stories I went back and read it again. This time, it made me shudder. Shades of Heathcliff and and Cathy in Wuthering Heights (still gives me nightmares, that book), but with a compelling voice and atmosphere that is all Price's own.
The second story, 'Bus Aid', is a very different kind of beastie. There's social comment - social satire - here. There's claustrophobia; people trapped and desperately needing help. It's funny, too. And it leaves you wondering... who was doing the haunting in this tale?
Another favourite of mine is 'The Footsteps on the Stairs'. Young children left alone, and a father interrupting his evening at the pub to come home and check that they're OK. Or does he?
I'm trying to work out why these stories have such power. I think it's because of the realism - the poverty in which many of the characters live. The cosy, grimy, small-town life that surrounds them. And the shock of the supernatural, in among all that.
In Price's stories it feels sometimes as though the ghosts inhabit the true world - the one that makes more sense. Some of their transparency is coloured in by the reality of mid-twentieth century Black Country life. Almost as though it's our messy world that's doing the haunting and disturbing the cool, elegant realm we call the supernatural.
There's ambiguity, too - many more questions than answers. Was that really a ghost, or just a dream, or a frightened child's imagination run amok? And there's the delightful recognition that ghosts and spirits may sometimes be benign.
'Mow Top' is heartbreakingly sad. The picture of the toy car rusting away on its little stone on the empty moors will stay with me. This is how it works in real life. Children see ghosts and tell us. We reassure them, and ourselves, that there are no such things...
'The Familiar' is all about the cost of power, and cuts deep.
The final story, 'Overheard in a Museum', is a thing of beauty, like the ship itself. You can feel the swell of the sea beneath you as you read. It speaks of a distant era and reminds us that objects so often outlast people by a long, long time. Except that the ship is not a object - it's the spirit of an age.
You don't need to believe in ghosts to enjoy these wonderful stories, but be warned. You may dive in as a sceptic and find yourself an agnostic, or even a believer, by the end... perhaps not so much in ghosts as in another world, very close to and overlapping with our own.
Title: Overheard in a Graveyard and Other Stories
Author: Susan Price
Kindle Edition Publication Date: September 2011
Kindle Edition price £1.54
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Click to view on Amazon.com
Author of Coping with Chloe and Charity's Child
See more of my reviews on my blog, Rosalie Reviews
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